Haaland looks set to replace Messi and Ronaldo as football's next global superstar

Jun 08, 2023 06:02 PM IST

Say hello to Erling Haaland, whose record-breaking first season at Manchester City has seen him establish himself as probably the most lethal goal-scorer.

With Lionel Messi on his way to Inter Miami and Cristiano Ronaldo already in Saudi Arabia, it's time for soccer's next global superstar to step forward.

Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland(AFP)
Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland(AFP)

Say hello to Erling Haaland, whose record-breaking first season at Manchester City has seen the Norwegian establish himself as probably the most lethal goal-scorer in the sport.

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On Saturday he could fire Pep Guardiola's City to its first Champions League title and a historic treble of trophies after winning the Premier League and FA Cup this season.

Perhaps only Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior can challenge Haaland to the title of the world's best in the post-Messi and Ronaldo era.

Haaland has exceeded all expectations in his first season at City after signing from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

His goal-scoring talents were already well known. European giants Real Madrid and Manchester United were among his admirers.

But his feats at City have defied belief at times and set new standards in England's top flight.

With 36 goals in the Premier League, he set a new benchmark in the division by breaking the record of 34, which was jointly held by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer. It had stood for 29 years.

He scored 52 in all competitions, including six hat-tricks.

Haaland's five goals against Leipzig in the Champions League matched the record held by Messi and Luiz Adriano for the most in a single game in European soccer's top club competition.

He also became the fastest and youngest player to reach 30 Champions League goals.

"His mentality is to score more, more," City manager Pep Guardiola said.

While he will likely be the player Inter Milan fears most in Saturday's final in Istanbul, Haaland is on something of a scoring drought heading into the game.

Just one goal in his last seven matches represents his worst run for five years, dating back to when he was still establishing himself at Norwegian team Molde.

That recent dry spell, however, has done nothing to shake the sense that City's goal machine is one of the few players capable of taking over from Messi and Ronaldo as soccer's next global icon, especially as the 22-year-old Haaland is still developing his game and honing his talent.

His all-round game has improved after developing more of an understanding with his City teammates. He was outstanding, for instance, in the 4-0 win against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals, despite not getting on the scoresheet.

Just as Messi and Ronaldo's rivalry helped drive them to even greater heights — sharing 12 Ballon d'Or trophies between them — Haaland's primary competition for the title of the world's No. 1 soccer player is likely to come from Mbappe and Vinicius. But while Haaland may not have their finesse or intricate footwork, his raw power, athleticism and scoring instinct sets him apart.

And his distinctive looks add to his aura as a near-irrepressible force.

"I'm 1.96 (meters, 6-foot-4) tall and I've got long blond hair so wherever I go, people are going to see me," Haaland said.

The greatest players are judged by the trophies they win. Messi's World Cup triumph with Argentina in December has, for many, settled the debate as to who is the greatest out of him and Ronaldo, who has never won the competition.

Haaland is already playing catchup in terms of trophies in comparison to Mbappe and Vinicius. He's one game away from adding the Champions League to his Premier League and FA Cup collection.

"This is why they (City) brought me of course to the club to get this," he told the BBC.

"We don't have to hide that. I will do everything I possibly can to try to make it happen."

Mbappe, a World Cup winner with France in 2018, is still to triumph in the Champions League.

Brazil star Vinicius won it last year with Madrid.

But given Haaland is unlikely to win major honors with Norway, club titles and personal records are likely to be his chance of establishing himself ahead of Mbappe and Vinicius as the best of his generation.

While that duo present the potential for a long-term rivalry, Messi likely provides the biggest challenge to Haaland if he is to win the Ballon d'Or this year.

Argentina's World Cup success could land Messi the accolade of the world's best player for a record-extending eighth time. A Champions League trophy for Haaland might change that.

Either way, Haaland looks likely to be a contender for many years to come as more records surely fall.

Not that filling Messi's shoes will be an easy task.

Even Haaland's remarkable feats this season have fallen short of Messi's most prolific campaign when he scored 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona in 2011-12, including 50 in the Spanish league.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored 61 for Real Madrid in 2014-15.

"I'm still really young. I'm still 22. I've got a long career ahead of me and i still have to develop," Haaland said.

Asked recently if he was now the best goal-scorer in the world, he was coy.

"I don't want to answer that. I think someone else should answer that," Haaland said.

"But I scored most goals this season, I think, so that's a good start."

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